29 November 2016

A wake-up call for schools regarding workplace safety


The High Court judgment in a recent court case should stand as a red flag to schools that they might find themselves liable in damages to employees if they fail to observe their statutory duty.

In Deal v Father Pius Kodakkathanath [2016] HCA 31 in 2016, the High Court concluded that it was the employer’s duty to do what is reasonably practicable in order to prevent an employee from performing a task other than in the safest possible way.

In Deal, the employee was a teacher, employed by a primary school in Victoria. As part of her employment, she was required to remove displays from a pin-board attached to the wall of her classroom. In order to complete this task, the employee used a 2 step ladder provided by the school.

The task of removing the display required the employee to step up on the ladder, reach above her head to unpin the displays and then step down the ladder backwards to the floor. On the day of the relevant accident, she missed one of the steps and fell, injuring her knee.

The school had not given the employee any written warnings regarding the safe use of the step ladder or any form of instruction as to how she should remove displays from the pin up board. The school had also failed to provide training regarding the risks associated with removing displays from pin-up boards.

The High Court determined that there was sufficient evidence for a jury to decide that it was reasonably practicable:

  1. for the school to identify the risk of taking down the displays with the use of a 2 step ladder as a task involving ‘hazardous manual handling’; and
  2. for the school to take steps to remove or substantially minimise the risk of injury associated with that task.

Therefore, there was a reasonable inference to be drawn that the school had breached its statutory duty to do what was reasonably practicable.

The lesson to be gleaned from the High Court judgment is that where there is an identified hazardous manual handling task, schools must assess the risks of all the possible ways that such tasks may be carried out and become actively involved in addressing those risks by, amongst other things providing a written risk assessment to their employees.

In response to this requirement for active involvement on the part of schools to identify, address and train employees against risks, Mills Oakley has partnered with a technology company, Velpic Ltd, and is collaborating to distribute online-based safety training modules to schools throughout Australia.

The webinar will take a close look at the High Court decision in Deal and the practical implications for school leaders and principals in minimising their exposure to liability. The webinar will also explore how Velpic’s platform can be of assistance and potentially guard against risk and liability.

Mills Oakley will be responsible for providing all the content and material for the online video-based safety training modules for schools. The content and materials will be presented in the form of a cloud-based eLearning platform and will be crafted to allow schools to implement continuous learning strategies within the workplace.

The platform will allow schools to distribute the training videos to staff and contractors, who will then be able to access the platform from any location and on any device. Schools will be able to deliver and capture workplace training efficiently, making administrative and financial loads lighter and allowing schools to focus their resources elsewhere.

For schools only: Access made simple

Schools can now leverage Velpic’s full flagship services and Mills Oakley’s ongoing expert content in our Schools Pack—at a fraction of both our commercial offerings for a single annual fee—because we know this game-changing strategy can transform the way your school conducts workplace training to minimise its exposure to legal liability.

Webinar - Classrooms: Hazardous playgrounds for teachers?
What schools must do to minimise their exposure to legal liability

To find out what you must do to protect both your school and your staff, click on the botton below.

Webinar on reducing legal liability in schools